From Grange Hill to the West End, via Eurovision and the Brit awards, the star has built multiple careers. She talks about stage-school pressure, TV diversity and playing Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Michelle Gayle was 10 months into her role as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child last March – and in such full swing that she was in “total denial” of the pandemic – when the West End closed its doors. Sitting in a chintzy backroom of the Palace theatre now, she talks in athletic terms about 12-hour rehearsal days and re-building her stamina. The whole cast is ecstatic to be back, she says, but they are also whispering about how tired they feel.
Exhaustion aside, she speaks of her debt to Noma Dumezweni, whose casting in 2016 sparked online outrage from some at the prospect of a Black Hermione. JK Rowling piled in to the furore to defend the casting and call out the complaints as racist. Dumezweni won an Olivier award for the part. “I owe her a lot of gratitude – I’m standing on her shoulders,” says Gayle. “She got through that [time] with incredible grace and proved she was there on merit because she’s a bloody good actress but she had to take a big hit online to do that. When someone of the quality of Noma steps up, no one’s got anything more to say and then the conversation’s dead. It’s a shame that you have to be brilliant to end that conversation, but there are enough brilliant black actors out there.”